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State leaders pushing economy may be own worst enemy

For a state obsessed with creating jobs, becoming more business friendly and doling out tax cuts and corporate incentives, our Tallahassee leaders are woefully lacking in one area.

Practicing what they preach.

Lately, too much of the news about economic leadership from the state capital is controversial. The state-run and increasingly tone-deaf property insurer of last resort, Citizens Property, can't seem to move without first inserting its feet in its mouth. The state's Department of Economic Opportunity operates at half-staff because it runs through executive directors at an appalling rate.

Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development arm of the state, faces criticism from a watchdog group for its "pay-to-play" tactics with vendors and failing to create promised jobs. That prompts Enterprise Florida to fight back against such claims — which distracts it from its mission: adding more and better jobs to the state.

The folks running Enterprise Florida are the same ones who picked a Tennessee firm over several competing Florida marketing companies to come up with a brand campaign to better identify "Florida business."

When that brand — "Florida: The Perfect Climate for Business" — was unveiled last month, some prominent female executives objected to the "i" in "Florida" being represented by a man's tie.

Enterprise Florida says that image passed muster with a group of businesswomen in the state and will proceed as the state business brand.

So what has that generated in publicity for "Florida business" by the larger media beyond Florida so far?

"Florida's new business logo is sexist, critics say" is the Feb. 6 headline in a Los Angeles Times story.

"Outrage over Florida's 'sexist' new business slogan that replaces the 'i' with a man's necktie" says Britain's Daily Mail newspaper.

Within Florida, most coverage pays scant attention to the new brand but focuses on women who run lots of businesses in Florida but feel the tie brand welcomes men only.

Hardly the media content Florida was hoping for.

Each of these slips by Florida's economic leadership may not amount to much.

Combined, they project an almost Neanderthal image of those in charge of lifting the state economy.

If I had to choose a winner among the losers, it would be Citizens Property Insurance for its sheer consistency of political blunders.

An insurer purportedly designed to provide "last resort" coverage to homeowners and businesses repeatedly has been exposed for poor judgement by:

• Firing internal watchdogs investigating alleged misconduct by supervisors, phony credentials, drunken Coyote Ugly bar dancing and more than $750,000 in severance pay.

• Brushing aside public criticism of lush travel lifestyles of Citizens executives.

• Rewarding Citizens executives lavish salary raises, some topping $30,000 and some amounting to 24 percent pay hikes, at a difficult time in the economy and when the state-run insurer was painfully raising the cost of coverage to Floridians.

If Tallahassee wants to raise the economic bar, let them first raise the bar on how they are perceived.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

State leaders pushing economy may be own worst enemy 02/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 6:57pm]
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